The one-year anniversary of the unprecedented shutdown of Metro was met with little fanfare Thursday. Thousands took to the trains, just as they always do on their morning commute. But the question is how much has changed since that shutdown last year.
The 2016 shutdown was announced just two days after a fire inside an empty train at McPherson Square Station. The cause of the fire was the "jumper cable," the same culprit for the 2015 smoke incident at L'Enfant Plaza Station, which took the life of one metro rider.
General Manager Paul Wiedefeld ordered the closing of metro for the entire day of March 16, in order to investigate whether there were other problems with "jumper cables." The investigation found dozens of faulty cables, including six that were at an immediate risk of catching fire.
"We had a crisis," said Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans.
From that moment, things have moved quickly. Less than three months after the shutdown, SafeTrack got underway. The year-long process temporarily shuts down sections of the metro, in order to expedite repairs. SafeTrack is expected to be finished by June.
"Our system is safe now," he said. "You haven't seen the instances of fires and that kind of thing. So I think we've corrected those."
Despite those improvements, Evans said there's no doubt more needs to be done.
"We'll still have a system in dire need of repair," he said. "It's not that the system is fixed by any means. But at least the 15 worst parts are fixed."
Rushing Into Action: Perhaps Too Fast?
The one year anniversary coincides with a brand new report from the Government Accountability Office. The report said that Metro was in such a rush to improve safety, that it failed to adequately plan SafeTrack, likely making it less effective.
"As a result of the urgent need for work on the track infrastructure..." read the report. "WMATA's planning of SafeTrack did not fully align with leading practices, and WMATA likely experienced some early challenges as a result."
Evans called the criticism in the report "off-base," and an example of "Monday morning quarterbacking." He said the quick action was needed, and they simply could not wait for a government planning study.
"We didn't and still don't have the luxury," he said. "Of long-term government planning.... In a perfect world, if you have all the time in the world, you can do better planning. But we didn't have any time. We had to move quickly."
When WUSA9 reached out to Metro for comment, they sent us a laundry list of improvements over the last year. Below are just a few of them.
- Replaced 28,000 cross ties - more than the past two years combined
- By the end of SafeTrack, over 50,000 cross ties will be replaced; reducing defective ties to under 5,000
- Replaced 20,000 fasteners
- Cleaned 21,093 drains
- Cleaned 13,957 insulators
- Cleaned 210,687 feet of track bed
- Fixed 1,815 leaks
- Unplanned service disruptions are down 10%
- 3rd rail insulators: all underground stations replaced with fiberglass insulators
- Fires in the system are down 32% from last year
- Sealing sleeves: all underground weather tight seals on third rail power feeds and jumper cables were installed ahead of schedule
- Orange Boot Program is 99% complete
- QICO (Quality and Internal Compliance Operations): Reporting to the GM to ensure quality assurance and quality control responsibilities are clearly defined and implemented to proactively identify quality concerns and promote actions to address them
- Provide quality control after the fact and pre-surge inspections
- Improved Track Inspection Department: terminated employees who falsified records, six FRA-trained outside track inspectors were embedded to improve Metro’s inspection process, and every interlocking was inspected
- Expanded the Fire Liaison position to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help coordinate emergency communication between Metro and first responders
- Conducted quarterly drills to train with emergency responders across the jurisdictions
- Launched the Railcar Get Well program: a repair and replacement campaign of HVAC, doors, propulsion systems and brakes that plague train reliability
- Offloads are down 20%: March 2015 - Feb 2016 vs March 2016 - Feb 2017
- Resolved part shortages helping to get parked railcars back onto the system
- Committed to retiring the oldest and least reliable rail cars (1000 and 4000 series) by 2017
- Metro now has 300 new 7000 series rail cars helping to improve railcar performance
- Preventative Maintenance Program/Span of Service: new service hours allowing for more time to do preventative maintenance addressing many of the issues raised in the NTSB report and our own reviews
- Reduce service disruptions due to track failures such as insulator fires, cable fires, broken rail, and broken fasteners
- Overnight maintenance will create opportunities to identify and repair track problems before they disrupt daytime rail service
- Inspection, maintenance and repair of Emergency Trip Station (ETS) boxes
- Replace all tunnel lights
- Inspection, maintenance and clearing of tunnel drains
- Removal of mud, debris and water, particularly focused in the tunnels
- Clearing debris and material from all emergency egress routes
- Carry out faulty control and assurance programs